A pet is for life, so it’s important to take time before making a decision to get one. A dog or cat can have a lifespan of more than 12 years, and they will become an integral part of your family. Pets require work and commitment; they are living creatures that need love, food, training, and more.
It’s easy to find any kind of pet you want in Beijing. Warm- or cold-blooded, common or exotic, there’s a pet market or shop that will sell you whatever you desire, no questions asked. Because of this, pet owners are often ill-equipped to handle the latest addition to their family. Mary Peng, co-founder and CEO of the International Center for Veterinary Services (ICVS), says this need not be the case.
Peng is a long-time expat and staunch animal activist. She first visited China in the 1980s, dividing her time between the US and China until 1991 before settling in Beijing in 2003. During this time, her adopted cat Boo Boo moved with her. In China, Peng was unable to find proper veterinary care, and resorted to taking Boo Boo to livestock clinics for treatment. The experience motivated her to co-found China’s first foreign-owned animal hospital in 2006, offering other pet owners international-standard veterinary services.
Today, the clinic focuses on educating the public about pet care and increasing awareness within the community about responsible pet ownership. In addition, ICVS offers services such as obedience training, advises on importing and exporting animals, and although not an animal shelter, facilitates pet adoptions. Determining a potential pet owner’s suitability is a crucial part of the ICVS adoption process. Peng shares factors to consider before getting a pet and warns that parents will have to shoulder most of the responsibility. She stresses that when it comes to pets, it’s OK to say no.
Your family might move several times over your pet’s lifetime. Is this a globe-trotting pet who is going to see the world with you? If the answer is no, then let the kids know that your family can’t commit to the responsibility.
All pets have their own unique needs; for example, dogs have to be walked frequently or they will become high-strung and restless. Before getting a pet, look at your family’s life style. Do you travel a lot? Do you prefer the outdoors or indoors? Your pet should be a good fit for your way of life or you may become resentful about the adjustments you need to make.
If you live within the Fifth Ring Road, it’s illegal to own a dog taller than 35cm from floor to shoulder. For all of those living in apartments, regardless of their location in Beijing, Peng recommends having a cat or small dog. Medium to larger dogs need space, so a house with a garden is best.
Species and Breeds
If you’re interested in adopting a purebred animal, research is necessary before settling on a pet. Cute and cuddly shouldn’t be the only factors; investigate the temperament, size, and exercise needs of different pets. Bear in mind that different species and breeds will have specific health issues and/or special housing needs.
Pet maintenance isn’t cheap. Animal companions need quality nourishment two to three times a day. Beware of fake pet food and buy only from reputable sources. Trips to the vet, vaccinations, toys, export expenses, housing, bedding, and more will need to be factored into the family budget. Break down your pet’s requirements and cost estimates in advance.
Babies vs. Adults
Puppies and kittens may be cute, but all fur babies grow up. Young pets require more attention and take work to housebreak, as well as requiring training and vaccinations; whereas most adult pets have already been trained, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered.
Buyer’s beware: there is a high probability that there will be little to no health history available on animals for sale at markets. Their medical expenses may be unpredictable, and they might end up costing you more than anticipated. Pets bought at a market should undergo a full veterinary examination to determine if they’re healthy, or better yet, avoid this option completely and adopt from a shelter instead.
Rules and Regulations
Apart from restrictions on bigger dogs within the city, dog owners have to register their dogs at their local police station. The dog’s ID card has to be carried on you while they’re being walked the dog or you could face a fine of up to RMB 2,000. The ID card has information about both the dog and the owner, expires on April 30 each year, and must be renewed by the end of May. Only one dog is allowed per household, and first-time registration requires that the dog to accompanies the owner to the police station, a passport-sized (front head shot) of the dog, the owner’s passport, temporary residency permit and rental agreement, written permission from your neighborhood watch committee, and cash for the registration fee.
If you know your family’s next destination after Beijing, research the requirements for relocating your pet there. Each region around the world has different requirements regarding microchipping, rabies vaccinations, Rabies Neutralizing Antibody Titre Testing (RNATT), and others. Pet relocation companies and ICVS can help ship pets and inform owners about meeting requirements. However, be aware that some countries in the Middle East don’t allow dogs to be brought in, and only cats and dogs can be exported from China.
Pet Responsibilities by Age
Getting a new pet after the birth of a baby is ill-advised. Taking care of a new pet only adds to the pressures of taking care of a newborn. If the pet predates the baby, it may still be tricky, as the pet will naturally get much less of your attention. Introduce them early and take the necessary precautions such as not leaving them alone until the pet becomes familiar with the baby, and not letting the baby grab the pet’s fur.
With a lot more energy to burn, toddlers may end up treating a pet badly as they have little awareness of the dangers pets can pose. According to the American Association of Pet Dog Trainers, larger dog breeds and breeds with patient temperaments are safer as they can tolerate toddlers’ rambunctious ways. Smaller dogs tend to be anxious around toddlers and are more likely to snap. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warns that because toddlers can’t control their aggressive impulses, they may lash out at a pet and should be watched closely at all times.
Kids aged 5 to 10 may be ready for a pet, but parents shouldn’t think they can take care of one independently. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty, kids at this age do best with a small animal that doesn’t require a lot of care, such as a goldfish or rabbit. Parents need to oversee activities such as cleaning and feeding the fish, or else the family may find that Nemo died in the tank from starvation. If older children are rough or abusive toward animals, this indicates emotional problems.
Middle Schoolers and Older
Kids this age can take on more responsibility for caring for a pet and even keep one in their room. They should be involved in researching which pet to adopt, factoring costs and upkeep, planning how to care for the pet, and perhaps even signing an agreement with their parents covering their roles and responsibilities.
This article originally appeared on page 60-63 of the beijingkids June 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Donnierayjones, Catherine Muchado, and Chrstphre (Flickr)